Archive for the ‘Asia-Pacific Peace Committee’ Category

Gyeongui line to resume normal operations

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief (11-04-20)

Railroad services to Kaesong Industrial Complex on the Gyeongui Line increased from 21 to 23 times a day from April. Mainly a seasonal change, the last departure service into Kaesong has been pushed back to 5:00 pm from 4:30 pm and the arrival time also changed accordingly from 5:00 pm to 5:40 pm.

With the half of the Mount Kumgang tours, the Donghae Line is running on a more flexible schedule based on demand. Currently both lines are operating. There are 417 South Korean citizens currently residing in North Korea, with the majority (404 people) at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

According to the Export-Import Bank of Korea, the volume of loans by the businesses operating economic cooperation with North Korea increased over the years, from 10.8 billion KRW in 2008, to 15.4 billion KRW in 2009, and 41.6 billion KRW in 2010. The increase comes as a surprise considering the enforcement of sanctions against the North from the Cheonan incident caused all inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation to discontinue except for the KIC.

The Export-Import Bank (Exim Bank) in coordination with the Ministry of Unification has continued to provide loans to businesses engaged in inter-Korean cooperation through a special loan program called, “Special Economic Exchanges and Cooperation Loan.” Special consideration was given to these small businesses suffering since the imposition of government sanctions.

Last year, a total of 25 businesses (11 economic cooperation-related, 13 exchange-related) received special loans from the Exim Bank. The loans were used mainly for stabilizing the business management to cover various business expenses including tariffs, shipping, material, distribution, manufacturing and labor costs, as well as other additional taxes and interests.

On the other hand, North Korea’s Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee informed Hyundai that it would retract the company’s monopoly over the tour of Mt. Kumgang, which was supposed to expire in 2028. Hyundai Asan expressed regret over the North’s decision by saying, “The agreements that were reached on Mt. Kumgang tourism must be honored and cannot be declared void or lose their validity on unilateral notification. The North’s statement should be withdrawn.”

The spokesperson of Hyundai also stated, “The root of this problem is caused by the stalled tourism project. The only solution is to resume the tours to Mt. Kumgang at the earliest time possible.” It further added its intention of working closely with the South Korean government to restart the tours. Since the suspension of Mt. Kumgang tours after a female tourist was shot and killed in July 2008, Hyundai Asan has been hitting dead ends with the project.

Regarding its plan to retract Hyundai, North Korea is pointing the finger at the “South Korean government’s vicious North Korea policy.” According to North’s Uriminzokkiri website, terminating Hyundai’s monopoly rights was an “inevitable decision based on low prospect for resuming the tours of Mount Kumkang.” It further added, “Although the South Korean government is condemning our decision as against international norms, the situation is compelling the DPRK to exercise our rights which is in accordance with domestic and international laws.”


DPRK threatens to seize Hyundai assets at Kumgang

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has informed South Korea of its plan to look into all of the real estate owned by South Koreans inside the scenic mountain resort along its east coast, the South’s government confirmed Thursday, as Pyongyang apparently grows impatient with Seoul’s refusal to allow its citizens to travel there.

In a recently faxed message to the South Korean government, the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a state agency in charge of cross-border exchanges, said, “South Korean figures who possess real estate in the Mount Kumgang district should come to Mount Kumgang by March 25,” according to the Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs.

The North went on to say, “All assets of those who do not meet the deadline will be confiscated and they won’t be able to visit Mount Kumgang again.”

An inter-Korean tourism program to the mountain, once a cash cow for the impoverished North, has been suspended since the summer of 2008, when a female South Korean tourist was shot dead by a North Korean soldier while traveling there. A luxury hotel, a golf course, and other facilities built by the South Korean conglomerate Hyundai there have since remained idle. A similar joint tour business to the ancient city of Kaesong, just north of the two Koreas’ border, has been also halted.

North Korea, feeling the pinch of U.N. sanctions imposed for its missile and nuclear tests, has called for the South to immediately resume the tours.

In its statement issued March 4, the North Korean committee said, “We would open the door to the tour of the Kaesong area from March and that of Mount Kumgang from April.”

It said it may revoke all accords and contracts on the business unless the South stops blocking the resumption of the joint ventures.

South Korea has urged the North to first fully guarantee the safety of South Korean tourists. Related working-level talks between the two sides last month failed to yield a deal due to differences over details on a security guarantee.

The Unification Ministry expressed regret over the North’s latest threat.

“North Korea’s measure violates agreements between South and North Korean authorities, as well as between their tourism business operators,” the ministry said in a press release. “It also goes against international practice.”

It stressed the North should abide by accords with the South, and all pending issues should be resolved through dialogue.

“As the tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong are issues directly related with our people’s safety, there is no change in the government’s existing position that it will resume them only after the matters are settled,” it added.

Meanwhile, the head of the South Korean operator of the tours offered to resign to take responsibility for snowballing losses from the suspended businesses.

Cho Gun-shik, president of Hyundai Asan Corp., expressed his intent to step down in a statement emailed to all staff earlier Thursday, company officials said.

The Choson Ilbo has more:

In the message, North Korea said, “From March 25, North Korean authorities and experts will conduct a survey of all South Korean assets in the presence of South Korean officials concerned,” including Hyundai Asan staffers, who have assets in the area. “All South Koreans with real estate in the Mt. Kumgang area must report to the mountain by March 25,” it added.

According to the ministry, Hyundai Asan signed a lease with the North for a plot of land in Mt. Kumgang until 2052. South Korean firms have invested a total of W359.2 billion (US$1=W1,134), including W226.3 billion from Asan, in a hotel, a hot spring spa, a golf course, and a sushi restaurant there. The South Korean government owns a meeting hall for separated families opened in 2008 that cost more than W60 billion to build.

Nonetheless the threat is likely to fall on deaf ears. A South Korean security official said, “The North apparently wants South Korean firms that are in danger of losing their assets in the North to put pressure on the government, but the government won’t back down.”

A South Korean businessman operating in the Mt. Kumgang region said, “The North is threatening to seize our firms’ real estate there while talking about attracting large amounts of foreign investment. What South Korean or foreign business will make new investments in the North under these circumstances?”

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea threatens to seize S. Korean assets at Mount Kumgang

N.Korea Ramps Up Threats Over Mt. Kumgang Tours
Choson Ilbo


DPRK State Development Bank holds first meeting

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

According to the AFP:

Sanctions-hit North Korea on Wednesday formally launched a development bank aimed at attracting foreign funds to revive its economy, state media reported.

Directors of the State Development Bank held their first meeting to elect officers and decide on a management structure and annual budget, the Korean Central News Agency said.

The bank, set up on the orders of leader Kim Jong-Il, will have “advanced banking rules and system for transactions with international monetary organisations and commercial banks,” the agency said.

It would invest in major projects and act as a commercial bank.

The bank is the latest move by the North to revive its ailing economy and rebuild crumbling infrastructure. In January it upgraded the status of Rason, a free trade zone near the border with China and Russia, to boost foreign trade.

Analysts have said the decision to found the development bank shows leader Kim is confident the six-party talks will eventually produce a settlement.

The board is made up of members of the National Defence Commission (NDC), the nation’s top ruling body; the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, a state agency in charge of exchanges with South Korea; the finance ministry; the Korea Taepung International Investment Group and two independent directors.

NDC representative Jon Il-Chun was elected director-general and Pak Chol-Su, described as a Korean resident in China, as his deputy.

Previous State Development Bank posts here.

The KCNA story is here.

North Korean leadership Watch has more, including a picture of Jon Il-chun.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea launches bank to woo foreign capital


Roger Clinton’s Trip to North Korea

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

I was doing some research this weekend for a paper I am writing, when I stumbled on the following stories from KCNA.  It seems that although President Clinton never made it to the DPRK before his term in office ended, his brother Roger Clinton (aka “US pop singer”) did.


U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party arrive

Pop singer Roger Clinton, brother of the U.S. president, and his party arrived here today to visit the DPRK on the invitation of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. 

They were greeted at the airport by Ri Jong Hyok, vice chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, and Song Sok Hwan, vice-Minister of Culture.

U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party enjoy concert

U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party enjoyed a concert staged by the state symphony orchestra at the Moranbong Theatre Friday.

Among the audience were Ri Jong Hyok, vice-chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Song Sok Hwan, vice-Minister of Culture, officials concerned and working people in the city.

The artistes of the state symphony orchestra staged the orchestral pieces “Arirang,” “Dear Home In My Native Place,” “Nostalgia,” “Bumper Harvest Has Visited Chongsan Field,” a piano concerto “Korea Is One,” and so on. 

U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party visit Mangyongdae

U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party visited Mangyongdae on December 3. 

They looked round historical relics with deep interest, hearing an explanation about how the President Kim Il Sung was born and spent his childhood there. 

They posed for a souvenir photo in front of the old home at Mangyongdae. 

They also visited the Tower of the Juche Idea, King Tangun’s Mausoleum and Pyongyang metro on the same day and the Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace on Saturday.

Kim Yong Sun meets pop singer Roger Clinton

Kim Yong Sun, chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Saturday met and had a talk with U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton on a visit to the DPRK.

Present there was Ri Jong Hyok, vice-chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton performs in Pyongyang

A performance was given by U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton at the Ponghwa Art Theatre yesterday.

It was seen by Kim Yong Sun, chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Ri Jong Hyok, vice-chairman of the committee, Mun Jae Chol, acting chairman of the Korean Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Song Sok Hwan, vice-Minister of Culture, and artistes and Pyongyangites.

Roger Clinton and his party and Korean artistes took part in the performance.

Roger Clinton presented solo pieces and his party song, dance and male and female solos.

Korean artistes staged female concert, soprano, solo and dance and other pieces.

The performance ended with a chorus “Our Wish Is Reunification.”

Kim Yong Nam meets Roger Clinton

Kim Yong Nam, President of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, met and had a talk with U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party at the Mansudae Assembly Hall today.

Present there was Ri Jong Hyok, vice-chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

Roger Clinton said that it was an honor for him to visit Korea, expressing the belief that the visit would contribute to the improvement of the relations between the two countries.

Gift to Kim Jong Il from Roger Clinton

General Secretary Kim Jong Il received a gift from U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton on a visit to Korea. 

He handed it to Kim Yong Sun, chairman of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.  

Roger Clinton and his party feted

The Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) gave a reception for U.S. pop-singer Roger Clinton and his party on a visit to the DPRK at the Mokran House on Monday evening.

Present there were chairman Kim Yong Sun and vice-chairman Ri Jong Hyok of the KAPPC, vice-Minister of Culture Song Sok Hwan and other officials concerned.

Vice-chairman Ri Jong Hyok in his speech said Roger Clinton has staged music and conducted social activities, adding that he is well known among the pop-music circles for presenting many lively and optimistic songs in different countries and regions of the world.

Noting that Roger Clinton and his party gave a successful performance in Pyongyang, he hoped that they would find their stay in Korea pleasant and joyful.

Roger Clinton in his speech expressed thanks to General Secretary Kim Jong Il and the KAPPC and the Korean people for providing him with an opportunity to visit the DPRK and give a performance.

He said the performance tour this time offered an important occasion, adding that all of them should make positive efforts for peace in the future, too.

An art performance was given during the reception.

Roger Clinton interviewed by KCNA

American pop singer Roger Clinton was interviewed by KCNA at Pyongyang Airport before his departure from here Wednesday.

Giving his impressions of Pyongyang, he said it looked very positive and very much peaceful.

He continued:

From the artistic viewpoint, the talented Koreans that I saw here can perform any art of the world. They are as talented people as I have ever seen. But more specific is that children here are the most talented children that I have ever seen.

They performed music and dance, just general art work.

Really, the children are brilliant.

If there is something that I like to say to the Koreans freely, one must claim, I’ll be back.

I promise to convey all of my feelings, all of my lessons and all the information I have got from brave people to our people and to my brother.

At earlier press interviews he said that he was proud of having performed in Pyongyang, and this was great generosity that the Korean people and the government granted to him.

He thanked Marshal Kim Jong Il for the generosity.

He hoped that his visit would be helpful to the improvement of the U.S.-DPRK relations.

Roger Clinton and his party leave

U.S. pop singer Roger Clinton and his party left today after concluding their Korean visit at the invitation of the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC).

They were seen off at the airport by Ri Jong Hyok, vice-chairman of the KAPPC, and Song Sok Hwan, vice-Minister of Culture.

Before their departure, they hosted a reception at Pyongyang Koryo Hotel Tuesday evening in connection with their Korea visit.


N. Korea urges implementation of inter-Korean economic accord

Thursday, January 25th, 2007


North Korea has called upon South Korea to implement an earlier agreement to help revive its light industry in return for tapping into the communist nation’s natural resources, a senior unification official said Thursday.

During Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung’s first visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex since he took office in December, Ju Dong-chan, head of the North’s Kaesong development agency “asked the minister to honor the agreement, saying it is not an aid, but only swapping of natural resources and raw materials,” the official said anonymously.

In July 2005, South Korea agreed to provide the North with US$80 million worth of raw materials to help it produce clothing, footwear and soap starting in 2006. In return, the North was to provide the South with minerals such as zinc and magnesite, after the mines are developed with South Korean investments, guaranteed by the Pyongyang government.

But the agreement was never carried out as North Korea abruptly cancelled scheduled tests of two cross-border railways in May 2006. North Korea’s subsequent missile and nuclear weapons tests further clouded hopes to implement the accord.

“Lee agreed in principle to honor the accord, but he held the position it is more important to create a favorable environment for carrying out the agreement,” the official told reporters.

Asked about the North’s denial of reports that it scrapped plans to change its partner for tours of Kaesong, the official said it is purely a matter of business, which does not require the intervention of the government.

Just hours after Lee returned to Seoul from Kaesong, an unidentified spokesman for the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) said the North “has no formal agreement with the Hyundai side over the issue of tour of Kaesong.”

Despite its earlier contract with Hyundai Asan, North Korea requested a new deal with Lotte Tours Co. in 2005. However, the South Korean government said the change can happen only when Hyundai Asan voluntarily concedes or pulls out of the business.


N. Korea Picks Hyundai as Partner for Kaesong Tour-Not

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Well it seems that reports of the deal were premature–Hyundai Asan is not a shoe in.  the updated report is below.  The original story in the Korea Times is posted belw it.

N.K. denies report it will keep Hyundai Asan as partnerfor Kaesong tour

North Korea on Wednesday denied reports that it withdrew plans to change its partner for tours of Kaesong, a border town, and collaborate with Hyundai Asan Corp., the operator of tours to the North’s Mount Geumgang, the North’s official media reported.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) said it “has no formal agreement with the Hyundai side over the issue of tour of Kaesong and, moreover, there was no agreement with the latter in this regard in recent days.”

“The KAPPC’s stand (on the Kaesong tour project) is consistent and it feels no need to examine or consider any change,” it added.

Korea Times
Lee Jin-woo

North Korea has hinted that it is willing to start the long-delayed Kaesong tourism project with Hyundai Asan instead of Lotte, a Unification Ministry official said on Sunday.

“When former Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok visited the Kaesong industrial complex on Dec. 8, North Korean officials said they have finalized their decision to carry out the project with Hyundai,” said the official on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The former minister stepped down from the post on Dec. 11. His successor, Lee Jae-joung, has not made any specific comment on the issue.

The official also said North Korea’s Asia Pacific Peace Committee has given a positive signal to Hyundai Asan Chairman Yoon Man-jun during Yoon’s visit to a joint inter-Korean tourist site at Mt. Kumgang in North Korea.

Pyongyang has not issued any official document to confirm the verbal promise of the committee, according to the ministry and Hyundai.

Pyongyang has asked Seoul several times to accept Lotte Tour, a subsidiary of Lotte Group, in place of Hyundai Asan, the North Korea-related business arm of Hyundai Group.

The South Korean government, however, has rejected the request, saying, “The contract signed between the North and Hyundai is still effective and legally binding unless the two sides agree to nullify the deal.”

On June 30, the former unification minister met with Lotte Tour Chairman Kim Ki-byung, asking the chairman not to get involved in the inter-Korean business.

Experts said the North and Hyundai are expected to have a tug-of-war over the Stalinist state’s request for a payment of $150 per tourist to Kaesong, the capital of the Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).

Pyongyang has set the higher admission fee, nearly 20 times more than the $20 Hyundai pays to North Korea for every South Korean traveler to Mt. Kumgang. Hyundai has claimed the demand is outrageous.

Since July 1, the North has banned South Korean visitors to the Kaesong inter-Korean industrial complex from visiting the city’s downtown area including historic sites.

Hundreds of South Koreans, mostly businesspeople and government officials, had been allowed to make an excursion to Kaesong during their visit to the industrial complex.

The Stalinist state also stirred much controversy by signing an overlapping contract with a small South Korean company, Unico, in 2005 despite its initial contract with Hyundai Asan to develop golf courses at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Hyundai signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Emerson Pacific Group, which has been constructing golf courses at the scenic resort area at Mt. Kumgang, for the project in Kaesong.

Hyundai plans to develop a total of 66 million square meters of land by 2012, including information-technology complexes and residential districts at the industrial complex. The project commenced at an historic inter-Korean summit in June 2000.


Kaesong golf course under consideration

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

From the Joong Ang Daily

Kaesong golf course under consideration

North Korea is in talks with a South Korean company other than Hyundai Asan Corp. for a golf course business in Kaesong, the Unification Ministry said yesterday.

Hyundai Asan, a Hyundai Group affiliate, holds an exclusive right to do business in North Korea.

According to the ministry, Unico, a real estate developer based in Daegu, signed an agreement with North Korea’s Asia Pacific Peace Committee to rent two sites near Kaesong Industrial Complex to build golf courses.

Under the contract, the North Korean committee will lease the two sites, one in the southwest and the other in the north, for $40 million over the next five decades.

Along with the golf courses, Unico plans to establish hotels and other entertainment facilities, said the ministry.

However, the same sites are part of the 16,337 acres of land that Hyundai Asan was allowed to use after reaching an accord with the North in 2000. The Korean company is in the middle of building an industrial complex on 816 acres.

Building golf courses on the sites Unico made a deal on was on Hyundai’s agenda for next year.

“The right to run a golf course business there belongs to us, as we forged the contract first,” said a senior executive from Hyundai Asan.

The company began consultations with Unico yesterday over the golf courses in the North, according to the source.

“If Unico comes up with an appropriate business proposal, we can let the company be a business partner,” he added.

A high-ranking manager from Unico said the company pushed ahead with the project as North Korea explained Hyundai Asan has the right to businesses in Kaesong Industrial Complex only.

The Unification Ministry said it would consider approving the golf course business in North Korea only if North Korea, Hyundai Asan and Unico reach a compromise.


DPRK signals faith in joint projects amid tensions

Monday, August 7th, 2006

From Joong Ang Daily:

North sends upbeat note on inter-Korean projects

North Korea has reaffirmed its commitment toward inter-Korean economic cooperation projects, a South Korean operator of an inter-Korean business project said yesterday.

“We are confident that ongoing inter-Korean economic cooperation projects such as the Mount Kumgang tours will produce new meaningful results,” the North’s Asia Pacific Peace Committee said in a letter to Hyundai Asan Corporation, the operator of a tour program to Mount Kumgang.

The North sent the letter on Tuesday, marking the third anniversary on Friday of the death of Chung Mong-hun, the late chairman of Hyundai Asan, an arm of Hyundai Group in charge of various business projects in the communist country.

Mr. Chung committed suicide in 2003 after being interrogated by prosecutors about slush funds he allegedly provided to politicians to promote his company’s North Korea business projects, including an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

It is the first time that Pyongyang expressed its stance toward inter-Korean economic cooperation projects currently underway since it launched missiles in early July.

There have been concerns that inter-Korean cooperation efforts may hit a snag after the test-launches. In response, the South suspended humanitarian aid, including fertilizer aid. The North reacted by halting reunion events for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, and also suspended the construction of a 12-story reunion center at the Mount Kumgang resort on the North’s east coast. More than 1 million South Koreans have visited since the resort was launched in 1998.

Far fewer South Koreans visited the scenic mountain resort last month, according to Hyundai Asan. The number of people taking the cross-border tour in July dropped 43 percent compared with the same period last year. A total of 19,605 people traveled there last month, according to the company. 


First busses make overland treck to Kumgang

Tuesday, February 18th, 2003

from the BBC:

The BBC’s Kevin Kim joined the first overland tourist trip to North Korea, and reflects on his journey to the other side of the border.

“I was on board one of 20 buses that crossed the DMZ for the first time.

As a South Korean it felt really strange, because up to now we were strictly forbidden from getting near to the DMZ.

The mountains on the North Korean side looked totally different from the mountains on the South Korean side.

It was very barren. There were hardly any trees.

North Korea is in an energy crisis right now and every single tree is put to good use, for heating.

The South Korean guide told us that while travelling through the DMZ we must not take pictures, wave outside, or show any South Korean newspapers or magazines through the window.

I guess that is why everyone on the bus was talking in a very soft voice.

Every few hundred metres there were North Korean soldiers with their rifles just looking on as the buses went by.

I was really tempted to just open the window and say “hello” or “nice to see you”.

But I had been told by my South Korean guide that I could open the window but I could not say anything to them.

Like the words of the South Korean song, “Longing for Mount Kumgang”, getting to North Korea and seeing its natural beauty has been something that people in the South could only long for until now.

Unification, too, is something that Koreans have only dreamed about.

But having travelled through the most heavily fortified border in the world, I began to think that while unification in the Korean peninsula may seem impossible right away, it does not have to stay as a dream.

Who knows, in 20 years time we might actually be seeing the fences coming down.

It is wishful thinking. But Koreans are natural born optimists. ”

Also from the BBC:

The overland border between the two Koreas has opened for the first time since the Korean war ended half a century ago. The BBC’s Seoul correspondent Caroline Gluck was among the first to cross.

Fanfare, fireworks and balloons greeted us at a ceremony on the South Korean border, as we prepared to journey through the world’s most heavily fortified road border to the North.

This is the first land route for civilians since the end of the Korean war half a century ago.

The pilot journey is due to pave the way for regular overland tourist trips to the North’s scenic resort of Mount Kumgang, or Diamond Mountain – which has been developed by the South Korean company Hyundai Asan.

Hyundai Asan’s president, Kim Yoon-Kyu, described the trip as a historic moment.

“I can compare it to breaking the wall between East and West Germany,” he said.

Opening the border was also one of the ways to reduce tensions between North and South Korea, he said.

“I’m going to persuade (the North Koreans) not to have any nuclear power. We need money. Money is better than nuclear power,” he said.

At the demilitarized zone, there was a razor wire fence on either side, and signs warning that landmines were present.

When we reached the military demarcation line, I could see the first North Korean soldiers watch the convoy – around 20 buses in all.

All around me I could see the mountains covered in snow.

It is a barren landscape but quite beautiful. Many believe that if the two Koreas reunify, it should be turned into an ecological zone.

On the North Korean side, a welcoming committee with a female brass band was waiting for us, playing the North Korean song Pangap-sumnida, or Nice to Meet You.

Around 150 North Koreans took part in the ceremony to welcome their southern counterparts.

Ro Chang hyup, a North Korean tourist official, said it was an important step forward in inter-Korean exchanges.

“This is a first step towards unification. It is helping to break the ice and I really welcome our south Korean brothers.”

Ri Jong-hyok, deputy head of the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee which handles the North’s joint ventures with South Korea, said: “People are here for tourism. Why are you talking about nuclear issues? I get a headache when people talk about that”.

Bang Jong-Sam, head of the Mount Kumgang international tourism company, had a similar message.

“We don’t have nuclear weapons. Let the crazy people say whatever they want. All we have to do is to continue tourism,” he said.

Since 1988, when tours by cruise boat to Diamond Mountain began, around half a million South Koreans have travelled to the area.

For most, it is their only chance to visit the Communist North. They come to explore the peaks of the fabled mountain – immortalised in songs, paintings and poetry.

Fenced-in resort

But contacts between the two Koreans at the resort is limited.

The Hyundai-built tourism site is fenced in, and North Korean guides are on hand to monitor all movements.

You can catch glimpses of North Korean villages and people travelling on roads only allowed for locals – but most visible are the soldiers.

A group of around 40 soldiers marched by our tour group, singing the praises of their leader, Kim Jong-il.

He’s our great commander, they said.

“His love is like the sun, reaching out to every corner.”

If the project is aimed at breaking down barriers between the two Koreas, there is clearly a long way to go.

But some ventures, like a locally run restaurant open only to South Koreans, at least help to allow more contact between the two sides.

“I’m sure unification will come,” said my waitress.

“It’s really good that so many South Koreans are coming here. I’m proud to work here – and I welcome them.”

Projects like this and the opening of the cross-border road between the two Koreas are full of symbolism.

But, in practice, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before the two sides can freely mingle.